It was hot in Charlotte, North Carolina, when I showed up for the last week of June. My ICan Shine partners Andrea and Leigh were sitting on the floor by a baggage carousel waiting patiently before we rejoiced and headed out into the thick air. We were shuttled to our truck and trailer in an airport parking lot, and I struggled with the new vehicle’s keys and doors, sweating all the while. On our way to the hotel, it occurred to me that I knew nothing whatsoever about the place I was now driving through.
But discovery is part of the fun. There was the Charlotte hornets! But that was ages ago, and the purple and green licensed NBA hat I once sported is by now long out of date. The Carolina Panthers… I suppose. North Carolina as a state, I knew, from a brewing standpoint, is the next haven for craft beer (supposedly the water’s good). I would latch on to this last point, perhaps to have a theory to test over the course of my week there. I’d fine out by the end that a.) Charlotte has a new NBA team called the Bobcats, b.) the beer scene was pretty fun, and c.) Everyone’s favorite restaurant is a fish taco joint.
Fortunately my partners were supportive of brew touring. Though they weren’t really beer drinkers themselves, they were at least passive enough to let me dictate where we’d go for dinner sometimes. Our first meal out in Charlotte was meant to be NoDa Brewery in the NoDa district of Charlotte.
NoDa (for North Davidson St) is the a young-and-hip quarter of town where cyclists whiz past cartoonish murals and restaurants with vegan options and into traffic without trying ‘too hard’, and where locally made things are marketed and sold as such. Because our first visit to the district and its homographic brewery was on a Sunday, we missed regular drinking hours, though a young-and-hip man noticed our dismay and came outside to offer us free samples and brewery chatter.
Brian was his name, and marketing for NoDa Brewing Company was his living. He was a happy guy who offered both his condolences for our missing his brewery and free samples of various brews on the patio. “Come back on Wednesday,” He’d say, “and join our run club! Also check out Cabo Fish Taco down the street.”
We continued to Heist Brewery which apparently shared a vintage-looking factory type building with an animal hospital. the beer was forgettable, but the decor and food were fit for young-and-hip types (I had a duck and arugula flatbread pizza in the exposed beam inner sanctum done up with arted-up skateboards).
As the week went on, I spent my days working to make campers ride bicycles. Since we run the camps all day for a week, my partners and I generally don’t get much time to tour around, so I make sure that at least our dinners are spent in the most down-homey, local-yokely haunts I can find. I would ask the directors of the camp who live in Charlotte what they like. “Cabo Fish Taco!” Was the first and most popular answer.
We did make it there eventually. Leigh’s friend from college came to visit us, and we decided that we ought to try out these famous fish tacos. Onward again to NoDa, where from our patio seat at Cabo, young-and-hip types could be seen walking with art supplies or bringing roller blades back in style. The tacos were awesome, and the locally made jewelry shop across the street proved an excellent place to find hip earrings for my lovely girlfriend back home.
On Wednesday, Leigh and I returned to NoDa Brewing Company for the weekly fun run. Young-and-hip-and-fit types congregated at the brewery to fuel up before heading out on a one, three, or five mile loop. We took the brewery tour and nearly missed the last wave of the run. A mile later we were back at the brewery among young-and-hip-and-shirtless men with pints and popsicles from a made-from-scratch popsicle maker (no artificial flavors!). Later Leigh’s brother and his family met us to take us to dinner. “Hey, how ’bout Cabo Fish Taco?” Instead we went to Thai Taste, a local Thai place in Uptown Charlotte, among the skyscrapers.
Thursday evening is our time to dine with the hosts of each ICan Shine bike camp so that over a meal, we can discuss how the camp went and swap feedback. Our hosts in Charlotte were exceptional and friendly and young-and-hip, so when I asked them what kind of cool local place we should go to, the first thing they said was, “Hey, how ’bout Cabo Fish Taco in NoDa?”
“Been there.” Instead we went to Old Mecklenburg Brewery for sausages and pretzel rolls.